CDHA warns of link between acid reflux, esophageal cancer

As part of Oral Cancer Awareness month, the California Dental Hygienists' Association (CDHA) is working to educate patients and practitioners about the link between acid reflux and the potential for esophageal cancer.

The American Gastroenterological Association estimates that 33% of people in the U.S. have acid reflux disease, the CDHA noted in a press release. Acid reflux symptoms can include heartburn, excessive belching, sore throat, swallowing difficulties, hoarseness, chronic cough, and mild regurgitation. Damage will result from chronic acidic irritation as the stomach acid comes into contact with the tissue, according to the CDHA. Even tooth enamel cannot resist the acid and will soften and erode.

Acid reflux is generally divided into two types: gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) and laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR). GERD is the type that afflicts the majority of people and is not considered life threatening. LPR is more serious because the larynx can become inflamed with intermittent or chronic exposure of gastric acid.

"It is extremely important that patients with acid reflux recognize that different types exist and understand that LPR can lead to cancer," said CDHA President Lisa Okamoto. "Because this link to cancer is relatively new, LPR is easily misdiagnosed and undertreated."

Dental specialists, such as dental hygienists, are in a unique position to look for chronic changes to the dental enamel and oral tissues, including upper throat mucosa, the CDHA noted.

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